Police have put out a Valentine's Day warning about romance fraud, which claimed more than 4,500 victims last year across the UK.
Romance fraud happens when a person thinks they have met the perfect partner through an online dating website, app, or through social media, but in fact a fraudster is using a fake profile to form a relationship with them. They will gain the person’s trust and ask for money or enough personal information to steal the victim’s identity.
New statistics released today reveals many people across the UK continue to fall victim to this type of fraud, often with devastating consequences. In 2018, 4,555 reports of romance fraud were made to Action Fraud, with victims reporting to have lost over £50 million.
The average age of a romance fraud victim is 50 and that 63 per cent of dating fraud victims are female who lose twice as much on average than males.
Action Fraud believes that these numbers do not accurately represent the true scale of the problem. Some people may feel embarrassed to have fallen victim which may discourage them from coming forward to report their experience.
Advice on how to avoid a fauxmance is as follows:
Don’t rush into an online relationship – get to know the person, not the profile and ask plenty of questions.
Analyse their profile and check the person is genuine by putting their name, profile pictures or any repeatedly used phrases and the term ‘dating scam’ into your search engine.
Talk to your friends and family about your dating choices. Be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.
Evade scammers by never sending money to, or sharing your bank details with, someone you’ve met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you've been speaking to them.
Stay on the dating site messenger service until you’re confident the person is who they say they are. If you do decide to meet in person, make sure the first meeting is in a public place and let someone else know where you’re going to be.
Victim's story: Before retiring, Elspet worked as a nurse, a community support worker and then in a garage. She has one son and lives alone .
In February 2016, Elspet joined a dating website in search of happiness and a partner. She started talking to a man who claimed his name was Brian. He said he was in Syria with the British Army. After speaking for some time, he said he had a box of personal belongings and that he needed Elspet’s help to have these brought to the UK.
‘Brian’ said he knew a diplomat who was coming over to the UK and would be able to bring the box. He asked Elspet for money to pay for the diplomat’s air fares and courier fees. He gained Elspet’s trust by talking about getting married and buying a house together. He had even sent her a rose and a box of chocolates. Elspet initially sent £2,000 to an account in Germany, which she had to take a loan out to cover. He then asked for more money to cover the diplomat’s ‘fares’ from Germany and Elspet took money out of a private pension to cover this.
After sending around £10,000, Elspet told him she was not able to send any more money and at this point, he looked for sympathy and claimed the diplomat had been shot. Elspet grew suspicious and started to ask questions, which he was unable to answer. She then phoned the Foreign Office who broke the news that this was in fact a scam.
After reporting this to the police, Elspet was visited by a police officer. At the time of his visit, Elspett was struggling financially as a result of this fraud and was using a food bank at a local community centre. The officer helped her to rebuild her confidence and before speaking to him, Elspet admits that she had had suicidal thoughts.
That same year in August, Elspet was sadly diagnosed with a brain tumour. Following a successful operation, she is now on the road to recovery.
Determined not to let the fraudsters win, Elspet has turned her life around and now volunteers at the same community centre for four days a week.